The event took place at the Christiansted Historic Site.
The Summer Reef Ranger program will run through the last half of the summer and into the beginning of the school year. The program will teach kids about safe boating practices and culminate in a free snorkeling clinic at Buck Island Reef National Monument.
Children were also encouraged to join the Junior Ranger program, which allows them to volunteer at National Park Service sites at Buck Island, Salt River, and Christiansted.
Saturday’s event was all about community outreach, explained David Goldstein, NPS Chief of Interpretation and Education. He said people don’t always understand the park service’s mission or why it’s so important to preserve the territory’s natural and cultural resources.
These children’s programs encourage kids and their families make personal relationships with the things the parks protect, Goldstein said, “whether it be a sea turtle or our slave market building.”
Chearoll Matthew said she was just happy to have something fun for her son Makari to do over the summer. She signed him up for both programs, but Makari seemed especially excited about the snorkeling clinic.
“I’ve never tried it before,” he said. “I’m just hoping to see a stingray. They have a stingray named Sammy over by Buck Island.”
Volunteers with the governor’s Summer Reading Challenge were also on hand to push the cause of literacy. Angeli Ferschneider from the Governor’s Office said the goal of the program was to stop “summer learning loss.”
She said studies showed children can lose proficiency in reading and math over the summer if they aren’t kept engaged.
“We try to get the kids involved with reading any way that we can,” she said. “We’re encouraging parents, if the books aren’t easy enough for the little ones, to read to them, so everyone gets involved and it’s a family thing.”
The volunteers were handing out free books to any children willing to take the challenge. If they read five books over the summer, they’ll be invited to a “fun day” with the governor at the end of the summer.
Daina King-Sall did not need any incentive to keep her children reading. At the event, she and her son, Ahmaad, tucked themselves away in the bookmobile and were reading Nibble Nibble, a story about an adventurous rabbit.
King-Sall said her family frequently visits the library or bookmobile because she believes exposure to books helps children develop. She added that it was especially rewarding for her son, who was diagnosed with autism.
“Being able to just continuously read books increases their literacy skill and language skills,” she said. “So that’s why we read.”
Children can still sign up any of these programs. To join the Summer Reading Challenge, families can visit any of the territory’s libraries and ask for materials. Anyone who wants to become a reef ranger can call Chief Law Enforcement Officer Lorena Harris at (340) 773-1460.